The owner of a downtown business has described the arrival of the Burrard Bridge bike-lane trial as a “nail in the coffin”.
Wim Vander Zalm, owner of Art Knapp Urban Garden (1401 Hornby Street), told the Straight his day-to-day sales this week are down from last year. He attributes this solely to the fact that, due to the trial that began on July 13, cars can no longer turn right onto Hornby from Pacific Street.
“There are a lot of intricacies involved with a downtown operation,” Vander Zalm said via cellphone. “We live with it and it’s been good, but this might just be a nail in the coffin.”
The store has been in business 35 years. Vander Zalm—son of former premier Bill Vander Zalm—said that, compared to last year, sales were down about 36 percent for July 13, 41 percent for July 14, and around 60 percent yesterday (July 15).
“Our sales have been up for the year,” Vander Zalm said. “We were up almost five percent year, year-to-date, as of Friday. Now to be losing that much in the first three days is really a scary indication as to what might be long term. We’re worried, yeah. I can’t drop 10 percent. If I were to drop 10 percent in gross sales then that store becomes unprofitable for me, so I need to be very careful where things go.”
Vander Zalm said he had a meeting with Mayor Gregor Robertson on July 15, and his concerns have been relayed to city staff to see whether adjustments can be made. According to Vander Zalm, allowing right turns at Hornby Street, even “for certain hours”, may be enough to keep him in business.
“If they were to allow right turns for a portion of the day, that might be enough,” he said. “I don’t know for sure how much of a difference it will make. The majority of my business is done from the hours of noon to 5 or 6. That’s my retail hours. Depending on when they allow that right-hand turn lane, if it’s through those hours, it might be enough to change things so that I’m not in the situation I’m in now of having this major decline in sales.”
Added Vander Zalm: “None of this really came across in the news, but I might be a casualty of maybe the betterment of the environment, the betterment of commuters, and the betterment of traffic flow, and I kind of accept that, but the big thing has been the lack of communication and consultation.”
Vander Zalm and other merchants in the area, just south of Pacific Street, called a meeting two weeks before the trial began.
“An engineer came out to meet with us to explain how a right-hand-lane turn would work,” Vander Zalm said. “In actual fact we weren’t concerned about trying to figure out how a no-right-hand-turn would work. We could kind of figure that out pretty easily. But how could we lessen the impact? We knew...the merchants knew that there was going to be impact. We figured up to maybe, worse-case scenario, 50 percent, and it’s kind of trending that way.”